Fair Work Amendment (Improving Paid Parental Leave for Parents of Stillborn Babies) Bill 2021

30 August 2021

The Fair Work Amendment (Improving Paid Parental Leave for Parents of Stillborn Babies) Bill 2021 represents an absolutely remarkable achievement by senators in this place, and it would not be possible without the dedicated work of Senator Keneally, who introduced it, and the hardworking members of the Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education—Senators McCarthy, Molan, Bilyk and Rice. I want to acknowledge what is clearly very personal, raw and present grief for those senators who have contributed to the debate so far. It's an incredible thing to channel personal pain and tragedy, to take it out of the shadows, out of the place of personal and family grief, and to use it to drive policy change. It is remarkable, and I commend and acknowledge those senators in this place who have done that, as well as those here who may have felt or experienced it but aren't yet ready to speak and share it.

For too long those experiencing the pain of stillbirth and the grief which comes from it have done so alone. This bill is part of broader efforts in this place and in the community to take stillbirth out of the shadows, out of a world of personal pain and grief, and bring it into the open to talk about it and share in it so that we can right the policy wrongs and the policy failures that have for too long compounded this grief and pain.

The measures in this bill will provide support to families, and especially mothers, during what are undoubtedly the most difficult moments, hours, days and months of their lives. It corrects a historical wrong which prevented parents who experienced a stillbirth from accessing paid parental leave. It means parents will have the space and time to grieve without being forced to return to work. According to stillbirth awareness charity Still Aware, six babies in Australia are born still every day, and the rate of death from stillbirth among infants is higher than the national road toll—indeed, it is the No. 1 cause of death for infants. The parents of babies that are stillborn do not wake up the next day no longer parents or without parental responsibility; they deal with profound grief, unimaginable for many of us. They go through the traumatic experience of medical procedures, autopsies and funerals, and the physical and psychological challenges which will prevent them from working in any productive capacity in the weeks and months after their baby's death.

This committee's work was remarkable, and the committee heard significant numbers of stories and horrific accounts of mothers required to return to work in incredibly short time frames—in one case 11 days after giving birth to a stillborn baby. From this committee's work and these personal stories and tragedies comes important legislative reform. I acknowledge those organisations and businesses, and the trade union movement, who have already led in this area to provide support for families, mothers and parents. They have recognised not only that this is the right thing to do morally but that it makes economic sense to support parents going through this. However, the ultimate responsibility to ensure these measures reach the parents who need them lies with this parliament, with legislative reform and with bipartisan efforts to do better and to fix these historical wrongs and policy failures which have compounded grief.

Again, I thank the senators whose work has brought this bill before us for bravely sharing their grief with the parliament and with the nation, and for channelling that grief to make a difference to the lives of many mothers, fathers and families who were struggling in silence and in the shadows. Your voices, your advocacy and your work mean they will be a little bit less alone.